Tag Archives: Therapy Dogs

Coronavirus Irony

I took Shelby to the vet for her annual health check up today, so she could continue with therapy dog visits. We visit at nursing homes and residential care facilities. The check up is good for one year, and visiting can only continue if all records are current. No problem. (Shelby got her tests and inoculations and passed everything with flying colors.)

I looked at my emails when we got home. I had one from the certifying office strongly recommending all visiting be suspended until there is more knowledge about the coronavirus. The office will be sending out this recommendation to the facilities that we visit also.

I understand. We all want what is best for everyone involved. Better safe than sorry. I just found the timing to be ironic. We were preparing for work that we are now, not able to do. But never fear. When this is resolved, we will visit again!

Just Do It!

So, here is the promised update on the Hounds for Hattie event that the girls and I participated in on Saturday. As you may recall, Hattie Larlham facilities are homes for disabled persons. Above are the girls, Shelby and Nikki, in their Halloween costumes and in “plain clothes”. Yes, there was a costume contest. The Hattie residents voted for the best costume. Alas, Shelby and Nikki did not win although they did get a nice round of applause. They were good sports.

Dogs Ace and Oliver were two other dogs that came to join in the fun. They competed in the costume contest, tricks demonstrations, rally, and obedience. These dogs are actually brothers from the same litter! They are Havanese, the national dog of Cuba.

Gina, a labradoodle, came to participate in the fun and thrill the residents. As well as Griffin on the left. He is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. All of the above dogs are certified therapy dogs, certified by yours truly.

Panzer the Rottweiler did tricks and won the costume contest later. There were a couple other dogs who I didn’t get pictures of, but helped to make the event a success all the same. This event was started by my friend Becky and her daughter Rachel several years ago.

Shelby says if you ever have an opportunity to participate in such an event, do it! You won’t be sorry.

Magicians

My girls working their magic this evening at the nursing home.

I walked up to this gentleman with Nikki. He is usually very serious as he pets the dogs and talks. He is friendly but reserved. I asked him if he wanted to hold the little one, Nikki. He grinned from ear to ear and shook his head yes. He maintained his smile all the while petting Nikki. Each time I asked if she was getting heavy or if I should take her, he shook his head no. Finally it was time for us to go. We left him with a smile still on his face.

The lady petting Shelby also had a notable evening. She first petted Nikki and then Shelby jumped up on her own to visit. This is rather unusual for Shelby to jump on the couch without being invited. I’m learning to trust her as she is developing an intuition for who needs her. This woman said, if only my family could see me now, I’m afraid of dogs! I asked if she was ok with the dogs or if I should move them. The lady said she was fine and continued petting the pups. I got a picture so we can share it with her family.

If anyone tells you there is no magic in the world, don’t believe them.

Thank You My Friend

I had forgotten what a beautiful thing it is to have a dog that you communicate with on a personal level. It takes years of working together to achieve such a bond. I haven’t had it since my dog Duncan passed in 2013. I noticed recently that I have reached this point with Shelby.

She watches me and is generally able to anticipate what I want from her. I have had Shelby for about 7 years now. She is 9 years old and has been a certified therapy dog for 5 1/2 of those years. I was without a therapy dog after Duncan’s passing so had to train Shelby with no one for her to learn the ropes from. She learned the basic behaviors quickly and passed the test with no problem. The trusting working bond is not something you can teach though. It is something that is built, something earned. This takes time and experiences.

Shelby and her sister from another mother

It dawned on me recently that I now have this with Shelby. She is my go to dog whenever I need assistance on a job, or a reliable partner. Shelby has worked numerous public events with me including some with hundreds of people petting her. She has assisted me at county fair demonstrations. She has taught two (so far) therapy dog training classes with me at the vocational school. She has helped me test potential new therapy dog and handler teams for 5 years.

Shelby and I have put in many trips to visit at nursing facilities. She has earned the title TDIA (Therapy Dogs International Active) and is well on her way to the next title. She will “go visit” on command. She will hold a sit-stay will I put chairs away after a visit. We have done reading to kindergarteners, we have visited with college students to de-stress.

Shelby is a happy worker. She loves to work. In fact if I don’t give her a job, she will find one. Such as barking at extra cars through the window until they go away. Or stopping the cats from too much roughhousing. I can trust Shelby to do a job and do it well. I always watch her when we are working though. Unexpected situations do arise and I am her protector.

This level of relationship is rare. My hope for you is that you are able to experience it. It is a blessing and a gift.

Lights Out

This evening was our last class of Therapy Dog Training for this school year. It’s nice to have that evening free now, but I’ll miss my students.

In fact, I was debating if I wanted to make that kind of time commitment again, but I so enjoyed the students, and especially the dogs, that I think I will. Especially since the goal is so worthwhile.

Shelby is posing with one of the class props that the Animal Science kids use. This was just before our final “lights out “.

My Student

We just completed Week 5 of 6 sessions of the Therapy Dog training class that I am teaching. All of the dog and handler teams have shown improvement. I was so happy this evening to see the dogs performing their sits, downs, and stays.

Most importantly, they have all got the idea that they should pay attention to their handlers. This is such a big step. You can’t teach your dog anything if he won’t pay attention to you.

There is more work to be done, but this group of dogs will get there. The improvement from the first class to now is notable. As with anything, you proceed forward step by step, with an occasional step backwards. Persistence is the key to reaching your goals.

Above is my student, Remy. I just love him! I am sure he is capable of reaching his training goals. For now, I have the pleasure of spending time with him during class. What a lovable dog!

Teaching Assistants

I am currently teaching a class in Therapy Dog Training at our local vocational and adult education school one evening a week. It is so much fun! Above are my co-assistants. Shelby, on the left, accompanies me to every class. She is extremely reliable. The only reason I don’t say 100% reliable is because no one is perfect. My other sheltie Nikki helped this week too. Shelby demonstrates the exercises and both girls fill the role of “the neutral dog” when we work on distractions.

Our class is held in the school’s animal lab. That’s why there is a bunny in the background. There are lots is small animals: rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, lizards, fish, turtles, and an assortment of birds. They provide quite the distraction for the “student dogs” in class. Shelby and Nikki are not impressed by the menagerie.

The dogs taking this class are a huge golden retriever, a Norwegian elkhound, and a pit bull. All are under three years old so, it is an exciting time. They are all great but I’ve wanted a pit bull for a few years so, I can’t get enough of petting his big head and scratching his ears.

This is a labor of love. When the school asked how much I wanted to make, I said “I don’t care, I would do it for free”. I believe that it’s important to get more dog and handler teams available to visit nursing homes and other care facilities. I know if I lived in one, I would want someone to come visit me with their dog. I even had one lady who thought I was bringing her dogs in to visit her! That is a great reward.

Methods to Success

I have learned over the years that each of my Therapy Dogs has had a different way of working. Each has excelled in his or her own special way.

Jewel was my first certified Therapy Dog. She was one of the moms from a puppy mill case that took in 97 dogs but ended up with 105 after puppies were born. Jewel was a color headed white, full sized collie. I named her Jewel because her beautiful sable spots looked like jewels on her white coat. She was a sweetheart. Her method of providing comfort was to stand quietly while she was petted. Sometimes she would lay down with a person who wasn’t ambulatory. You could feel the gentleness emanate from her.

The photo above is my Trevor. He was an abandonment case that I took in. He came to me as an adult, but weighing only about 20 lbs. At his full weight he was 32 lbs. Trevor was a natural born Therapy Dog. He could do the job without me. He would go to people I didn’t even see, because he sensed that they needed him. He could work a room like I’ve never seen. What a gentle soul he was.

Duncan, above, trained and was certified as a Therapy Dog the same year as Trevor. I was Duncan’s third home by the time he was 4 months old. He was quite the handful and continued to be for many years. Duncan was a good Therapy Dog and brought joy to many. Duncan was different though in that he did the work because I asked him to and it made me happy. Whatever made me happy, made Duncan happy.

That brings us to my currently certified Therapy Dog, Shelby. She is a rescue dog whose original owners purchased her from a flea market. When she was 18 months old, they decided that she was too rambunctious. Hello, is that not the definition of a teenage puppy? Shelby is a tireless worker and has a work ethic that doesn’t quit. She can greet and visit with people for hours. Shelby is a good Therapy Dog because she enjoys working, and working with mom is even better. She is a joyful worker.

There are many ways that a dog can approach therapy work. And more than one way to be a success at it. As long as the method leads to happiness, the goal is achieved!

Shelby Goes To School

I have been teaching a Therapy Dog Training class for the past 6 weeks. It was geared towards getting dogs ready to test so they will be certified to visit nursing homes, hospitals, libraries, etc.

Last night was our final class so we briefly had our dogs don costumes. I’m not a big fan of putting costumes on dogs but the people we visit draw so much enjoyment from it. I think it is worth it to make our friends at the nursing home smile. I do tend to reserve this for our October visits to celebrate Halloween. For the final class, I wanted to teach how much laughter this can bring, and what a great thing it is to share with others.

Above is my dog Shelby being a movie star. Shelby is already a certified therapy dog so I use her as my training and testing dog. Shelby is proud to say that she goes to school and has a job. I was surprised but she actually walked around the class room smiling in this get up. Of course she is still on pain meds so that may have something to do with it. You can read about why she is on pain meds in my previous blog post. https://sanctuaryacres.wordpress.com/2018/02/27/a-trip-to-the-vet/

In class we also had Bella, a chihuahua mix, dressed as a sports fan.

And Greta, a possible Dane/Boxer mix, who came as a pirate.

Here Greta and Shelby greet each other. It was a fun time but alas, I will not be teaching this class again until fall.